5 Things I Thought I’d Never Eat Until I Ate Them In Tokyo
Raw horse meat is delicious – who knew?
From raw horse meat to the bits of chicken we usually discard – one writer took an unexpected culinary tour of Japan and lived to tell the tale.
#1 Basashi (raw horse meat)
The horse meat trade in Australia is a niche market. It’s small but stable (no pun intended), with two Belgian-owned abattoirs sending roughly two million kilograms of horse meat overseas each year. A lot of the meat that remains in Australia becomes pet food. Eating horse meat is a significant culinary tradition for a number of countries but it is only a major source of human sustenance in a few cultures, including regions of Japan.
The basashi I sampled in Japan was a result of letting a friend fluent in Japanese order our dinner. Among the many bowls that arrived on the table was one artfully arranged with scarlet strips of raw moist meat. When we found out that it was horse, the hesitation lasted just a moment. I was never that into Saddle Club, anyway.
Without that barrier of sentimentality, I dipped a piece in the soy sauce and ate it. It tasted like meat. Red, dense, gamey, heavy meat. A tiny bit sweet. Not too dissimilar to beef tartare. It wasn’t bad at all, actually. If you want to go the extra yards there is also a company that makes horse meat ice cream. I’ll leave that one with you.
#2 Nankotsu (Chicken cartilage)
I really not-even-secretly love KFC, so when a bowl of deep friend “popcorn chicken” arrived on the table of our private restaurant booth, I was naturally delighted. The same old fluent friend from above had ordered. Nankotsu, or chicken cartilage, tastes like when you bite the crunchy, chewy part attached to the hard bone at the end of a chicken wing. You know, the bit you usually discard.
Each piece of this bite-sized dish tasted like fried chicken, the only (admittedly sizable) difference was the texture once you got to the grinding. The taste was delicious, and I can only assume eating this would make you strong. It’s a pretty great thing for reducing animal waste but the super unfamiliar sensation of putting a chicken nugget in your mouth and biting down on soft bone was one I couldn’t quite commit to for a full dish. After about five I had to bow out.
#3 Strawberry and cream sandwiches
At some point in Australian history, we firmly decided the sandwich was a savoury lunch food. This was a dark day indeed. You can buy strawberry and cream sandwiches in Japan at grocery stores, convenience stores and from vendors at the baseball. They take big plump sliced strawberries and thick whipped cream and wedge them between two slices of very soft, super fresh square white bread with the crusts cut off.
I have no real sweet tooth so this one did pretty much nothing for me, but I was with a family and can confirm that these sandwiches are, in reality, drugs for 10-year-olds. I could basically hear the tiny cymbals erupting in my small friend’s ears as the novelty and sugar overload mingled in her mind. A true sensory experience.
#4 A boiled egg from a 7-Eleven
The unshelled, individually wrapped boiled eggs you can buy at the 7-Eleven were a curiosity at first, and mystery was only intensified once we bought one to try. Each egg is uniformly medium boiled and easy to peel, revealing a perfectly shaped oval white around a vibrant orange yolk that somehow tastes pre-salted.
When you’re as bad at making boiled eggs (and many other staples) as I am, there’s plenty of reason to cast doubt on something that feels so routinely and faultlessly manufactured. Once sampled though, the egg shot to the top of my “every day foods” list. It was the hit of protein in the mosaic meal I’d piece together from the 7-Eleven each morning, which also normally consisted of an iced coffee, an ongiri (rice ball with seaweed) or two and some form of breakfast candy (that’s not Japanese thing by the way – I was just on holidays).
#5 A mango in a squeezable pouch
Aside from a deep political dissatisfaction brought on by the last few years of governance, this is the most disappointed I’ve been with Australia in a long, long time. In Tokyo, you can buy something called a Minute Maid Squeezable Fruit Morning Pouch. It’s a mango. All of the flesh of a mango. And it’s in a bag. With a tiny mouth sized cap.
Don’t get me wrong, the joy of slicing off two plump mango cheeks and scoring them into my mouth is not lost on me. I don’t even mind the stringy bits that get stuck in your teeth after you tear at the seed. But who has the time to do this each morning of summer? The convenience contributors in Japan have now mushed this excellence into something you can grab from the convenience store and enjoy with just the effort of a few hand squeezes.
Mind you, not being able to read Japanese led to me to question if I was actually eating baby food. But you know what? It was so heavenly, I wouldn’t even mind.
(Lead image: Lucas Richarz/Flickr)